Environmentalism has all the hallmarks of a Left-wing cause: a class of victims (future generations), an enlightened vanguard which fights for them (the eco-warriors), powerful philistines who exploit them (the capitalists), and endless opportunities to express resentment against the successful, the wealthy and the West. The style too is Leftist: the environmentalist is young, dishevelled, socially disreputable, his mind focused on higher things; the opponent is dull, middle aged, smartly dressed and usually American. The cause is designed to recruit the intellectuals, with facts and theories carelessly bandied about, and activism encouraged. Environmentalism is something you join, and for many young people it has the quasi-redemptive and identity-bestowing character of the 20th-century revolutions.
However, the cause of the environment is not, in itself, a Left-wing cause at all. It is not about “liberating” or empowering the victim, but about safeguarding resources. It is not about “progress” or “equality” but about conservation and equilibrium. Its following may be young and dishevelled; but that is largely because people in suits have failed to realize where their real interests, and their real values, lie. Environmentalists may seem opposed to capitalism, but – if they understood matters correctly – they would be far more opposed to socialism, with its gargantuan, uncorrectable and state-controlled projects, than to the ethos of free enterprise.
Indeed, environmentalism is the quintessential conservative cause, the most vivid instance in the world as we know it of that partnership between the dead, the living and the unborn that Burke defended as the conservative archetype. Its fundamental aim is not to bring about some radical reordering of society, or the abolition of inherited rights and privileges. It is not, in itself, interested in equality, except between generations, and its attitude to private property is, or ought to be, positive – for it is only private ownership that confers responsibility for the environment as opposed to the unqualified right to exploit it, a right whose effect we saw in the ruined landscapes and poisoned waterways of the former Soviet empire. Its cause is local attachment not global control, and it stands against globalisation in all its forms, not least that advocated by environmentalists on the Left, whose aim is to fit us to a world-wide agenda of prohibitions.
True civic responsibility arises from our sense of belonging. Hence there are no coherent environmental policies coming from the Left, despite their appropriation of the cause. For the Left-wing vision despises the sense of belonging. Nobody on the Left would dream of taking a stand against mass migration, since that would be to commit the biggest sin that globalists recognize, namely “racism and xenophobia”. Britain’s Green Party, along with the German Greens, has therefore remained silent on the topic, even though mass immigration has radically degraded the infrastructure of our country, caused a crisis in housing, and put enormous pressure on planning, countryside protection, waste management and urban amenities.
The sense of belonging relates us not only to people but also to the places where we reside and the customs that bind us. It involves an intrinsic vector towards settlement. It is the source of the attitude that I call “oikophilia”, the love of the shared home and the desire to protect it. This love calls me to account, not only to my present companions, but also to past and future people too – to all for whom this place is not just yours and mine but ours.
This is why the true environmentalist is also a conservative. For the desire to protect the environment arises spontaneously in people, just as soon as they recognise their accountability to others for what they are and do, and just as soon as they identify some place as “ours”. Oikophilia is deep in all of us, and it is illustrated by the two-century-old campaign in my country to preserve the countryside, and by the similar campaign in the United States to protect the unspoiled wilderness. If we are to have a cogent environmental policy it must appeal to the oikophilia of the electorate, and that means that it must respect their sentiments of national identity. It must stand firm in the face of globalism, including the globalist rhetoric that would accuse all patriotic people of “racism and xenophobia” just because they are not prepared to let their home be swallowed in the global entropy.
This article can be found on The Conservative Online website.